Murder case verdict should stand, says Howard prosecutor

She says trial was fair though one Howard juror wasn't a U.S. citizen

July 07, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The post-trial discovery that one of the jurors who convicted a 33-year-old Columbia man of murder last month was not a U.S. citizen should not invalidate the verdict because there is no evidence that the juror's presence denied the defendant a "fair and impartial" trial, a Howard County prosecutor said in court papers.

The juror, a resident alien from Nigeria, has said he never intended to deceive anyone and just "missed" references to citizenship on a juror questionnaire. And some courts across the country have ruled that, barring proof of prejudice, a defendant cannot challenge a juror's qualification to serve after a verdict has been returned, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy wrote in court papers filed Friday.

Under Maryland law, a juror must be "constitutionally qualified to vote," and citizenship is a requirement of voter registration.

"The Supreme Court has long recognized that there are no perfect trials," Murphy wrote, countering a defense contention that Marcus D. Owens should be granted a new trial because he was convicted by an illegal jury.

Murphy's 14-page memorandum cites case law dating as far back as the late-19th century and marks the prosecutor's first detailed statement about the case since the jury's verdict was thrown into question June 11 - one day after Owens was convicted of second-degree murder, child abuse and assault in the beating death of his 2-year-old stepson, Kevonte Davis.

Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure is scheduled to hear arguments in the case July 16.

Juror Adeyemi Alade, a master's candidate in mechanical engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has said he learned that he might have been ineligible to serve after talking with a colleague at school within hours of the verdict and immediately called Howard jury Commissioner Steve Merson.

Howard County uses the Motor Vehicle Administration database, which also includes non-citizens, as one source of potential jurors. Alade has said he has a driver's license.

A week later, and after Alade testified during a brief hearing that he is not a U.S. citizen but has a green card, one of Owens' public defenders, Louis P. Willemin, filed papers asking Leasure to "vacate" the conviction, saying that without 12 qualified jurors there could be no unanimous verdict.

Willemin could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he has said that citizenship is a must for jury service to ensure that jurors "understand that shared community of [American] values" and its rules and institutions. Legal experts have said the verdict could be in jeopardy because the jury did not have 12 legal jurors.

In her memorandum, Murphy notes that the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights do not list citizenship as a requirement for jury service. And some courts have said that, while lawyers can ask that non-citizens be excluded from the jury, they must do so before the jury is seated, Murphy wrote.

Because Owens' lawyers did not ask Leasure to inquire about potential jurors' citizenship status during the jury selection process, they essentially gave up the right to challenge the jury's makeup later, she wrote.

There would be "pandemonium" if Owens was granted a new trial. She wrote: "Every litigant who lost a jury trial could dig into the background of each juror to attempt to overturn the jury's lawful verdict subjecting them to intrusions into their personal lives."

There also was no evidence that Alade was "intentionally trying to deceive" so he could serve on the jury "for nefarious purposes," she wrote.

Murphy said yesterday that she did not want to comment further on the case until after the hearing.

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